After 'Honky Tonk Samurai', the ninth novel in his 'Hap and Leonard' series, Joe R. Lansdale churned out a few shorter entries, starting with this one, a novelette of about 13,000 words. It's a good piece, not that anyone should be surprised by that, but it also feels shorter than it is.
We're on Lake Caddo, a huge lake in what Lansdale calls "deep East Texas", right on the border with Louisiana. It's big and it's swampy and it's dangerous, though the fishing is supposed to be excellent. There are alligators there and, according to Wikipedia, there have been plenty of Bigfoot sightings too. All those things make it a great place for Hap and Leonard to go fishing.
Well, it shouldn't surprise too much to find that they're not having a good time of it when we show up to see how they're doing. Their cabin doesn't have electricity, let alone air conditioning, and the boat they rented leaked, so it's now at the bottom of the lake. It's hot and it keeps raining. Hap's cellphone is at the bottom of the lake, along with the boat, and Leonard's is out of battery life without any way to charge it.
In other words, they're miserable and this novelette, for quite a while, is them moaning at each other in that exquisite Hap and Leonard style that we've got to know really well over nine novels and a few novellas and short stories. Even the coffee can't perk them up. It's "godawful, tasted as if it had been strained through a used jock strap owned by someone with a rampant venereal disease." Lansdale is always ready with a memorable turn of phrase and he doesn't disappoint this time out.
Of course, they're having a much better time of it than the young lady they find in the woods, lying on top of an anthill, half naked, with bruises, bloody feet and an arrow in her side. She doesn't live long, but long enough to explain that two men and two women rented her "like a carnival ride". She was a hooker from Houston and now she's a corpse in a swamp and Hap and Leonard don't like that. They're even less enthused when the two men show up and one hacks off her head with a machete.
I'm sure you can imagine where we go from here and it's an east Texan take on 'The Most Dangerous Game'. The title is taken from the old Brer Rabbit yarn where he's trying to get away from Brer Fox. "Throw us in the briar patch, assholes. Throw us in the briar patch and let us run."
I liked this, but I expected to like it. Lansdale's idiosyncratic prose never lets us down and we can buy into Hap and Leonard going to somewhere as innocent as the laundromat and still ending up in some sort of violent shenanigans. I don't think I'll ever tire of these two trouble magnets, until Lansdale is tired of them himself and that doesn't look like happening any time soon.
However, I wanted more from it. The sweep is fine, but things seem to accelerate at the point at which they get serious and suddenly it's all over and the story's done. I do appreciate Lansdale's talent for stripping away the fat and only giving us the meat, lean and tender. However, for once, I felt like this novelette could have been longer. It would have become a novella at 17,500 words and I wouldn't have been upset at all had it done so.
I had to read 'Briar Patch Boogie' digitally because I don't believe it's ever seen print, whether in a collection, anthology or even one of those slim collector's edition hardbacks that are often lettered, and numbered and signed. As far as I can tell, it's only ever been released on Kindle, by Gere Donovan Press. Then again, I'm up to 2016 in this series nowadays, so it's only five years old. I'm sure there's a fresh collection coming one day and this would be a prime candidate to be included, maybe even in a slightly enhanced version. I hope so. I'd like to have a copy on the shelf. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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